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IRS Backs Off of Facial Recognition Verification

The Internal Revenue Service is halting its plans for widespread implementation of a system that would have required taxpayers to use facial recognition and authentication to access services on the agency’s website.

In a February 7 statement released by the IRS, the agency said “it will transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new accounts. The transition will occur over the coming weeks in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during the filing season.”

The agency added that it will be adding new authentication processes that do not involve facial recognition to help protect taxpayer data while ensuring broad access to online tools.

The IRS action comes on the heels of three separate congressional inquiries into its contract with ID.me to provide facial recognition and authentication services, which was announced in November 2021, with widespread implementation planned for the summer of 2022.

The first was a February 3 letter signed by all Republican members of the of the Senate Finance Committee, led by Ranking Member Mike Crapo of Idaho.

On February 7, a letter was sent by Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

A separate letter dated February 7 was signed by four Democratic members from the House of Representatives: Ted Lieu (Calif.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Pramila Jaypal (Wash.), and Anna Eshoo (Calif.).

Both the Senate Finance GOP and House Democrat inquiries cited the fact that databases comprised of facial recognition data are prime targets for cyberattacks and noted examples of where cyberattacks were successful in exposing data in both the public and private sectors.

The House Democrat’s letter, as well as Wyden’s letter, also noted some problems with facial recognition that disproportionately affect people of color. House Democrats also stated that the plan could prevent people without access to broadband technologies from accessing things like earned income tax credits because they are unable to provide the data needed for facial recognition and authentication.

Wyden and his GOP counterparts on the Finance Committee also raised civil liberties and privacy concerns with using facial recognition.

Only the Democrats requested a halt to the program.

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